Offshore wind farm

At the University’s Marine Institute, our aim is to better understand the relationship between the way we live, the seas around us, and the development of sustainable policy solutions.

Every year, the United Nations World Oceans Day designates 8 June for celebrating the role of oceans in our everyday life, and inspiring action for their protection. For 2020, the UN's theme placed the global spotlight on ‘innovation for a sustainable ocean’, with highlights including ocean solutions and entrepreneurship, science, technology and deep-sea exploration, and the blue economy; key areas that strongly resonate with our marine research and expertise. 

As we marked the day, and the wider activities of World Ocean Week, we reflected on the role the University plays in securing a healthier, protected future for our oceans, from expanding global knowledge on key issues to innovating new methods of sustainable marine resource management.

Our marine conservation experts also led a number of events across the week through their involvement in the One Ocean Hub. These sessions brought together experts from across the world to share knowledge with the hope of informing future policy recommendations – details below. 

Our research

Marine protection of biodiversity and coastal community economies

Researchers in the Marine Conservation Research Group apply expertise, alongside innovative technology and new approaches, to guide the designation and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPA).

This academic offer, alongside Plymouth’s natural capital and our role as a key partner in the global, £20 million One Ocean Hub programme, means we are able to support the sustainable management of marine resources.

Such leading interdisciplinary research has led to:

  • greater protection of the marine environment
  • a strengthened evidence base for conservation
  • the investigation of the biomedical potential of marine resources
  • ambitious marine policy, economic and wellbeing benefits for local communities; and

  • enabled a cultural shift towards positive partnerships where fishermen support MPA management measures, trust the science and feel supported – heralded as a vital flagship approach for marine conservation.

Man fishing in small boat above coral reef. 

Taking action at the science-policy interface

University researchers are strong advocates for sustainable seas, working closely with policymakers in the UK and internationally to help develop approaches for more sustainable use of ocean resources.

By uniting marine science with social sciences and effective policy communication, we produce an integrated evidence base for policymakers that provides a fuller picture of the impacts human behaviour and resource use can have on the marine environment.

Professor Sabine Pahl, Environmental Psychologist, brings the human dimension to the forefront of global environmental challenges, such as marine pollution and climate change, highlighting the importance of perceptions and behaviour change in mitigation measures.

In addition to leading several large-scale European projects, Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop is at the heart of a pioneering initiative at Defra that takes a holistic, whole-systems approach to policy decisions.

Here, leading academics like Abigail are embedded into Defra’s policy process to strengthen the science-policy relationship, bridging the knowledge gap to translate complex research into useable, comprehensive evidence for decision making.


Trailblazing the UK's first National Marine Park

Britain’s Ocean City has come together to launch the UK’s first National Marine Park (NMP), a novel Government initiative that could become the blueprint for other locations. Supported by scientists, businesses, community groups and policy makers, the NMP aims to engage city dwellers with the sea to maximise Plymouth Sound’s value for recreation, industry and well-being.

The University is a key partner in the initiative, and leading the development of a research strategy that will further understanding of the effectiveness of NMPs, accounting for their impact on the local environment and the community who live, work and play within it.

Plymouth Hoe from a viewpoint partly underwater

Coastal resilience in the face of extreme weather

Our leading researchers in the Coastal Processes Research Group have earned an international reputation in recording and predicting coastal behaviour, helping national and international organisations, local councils, governing authorities, NGOs, and fellow consultancies to strengthen the resilience of coastal communities in the face of extreme weather.

Supported by an exclusive £1 million base of cutting-edge equipment, we develop ground-breaking 3D numerical models to aid and improve on storm impact predictions. One particular initiative, a unique citizen science approach, makes use of smartphones to track coastal changes in the CoastView project. This now has numerous counterparts across the UK.

University of Plymouth Coastal Processes Research Group Storm Chasers, collecting storm data at Westward Ho!

Novel technology measures embryo development response to climate change and pollution

Using unique technology developed at the University, EmbryoPhenomics, our researchers in the Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre are now able to track changes to how marine organisms grow and develop in real time. The novel, automated method of looking at embryo and larvae development under various conditions – such as altering pollution, temperature or oxygen levels in the embryo’s environment – allow us to identify the subtle effects different stressors can have on marine life, and also allow a broader look at a higher number of animals that can be studied at any one time.


Sustainable fashion and solutions to the microplastic crisis

Since coining the term ‘microplastics’ in 2004, our experts in the International Marine Litter Research Unit have continually expanded fundamental knowledge on the distribution and harm caused by plastics in the environment, with a focus on the potential solutions to this crisis for cleaner, more sustainable oceans.

After discovering that up to 700,000 fibres can be released to waste water from a single load of laundry, we have embarked on innovative problem solving to compare the efficacy of washing machine filters and waste water treatment, and influence garment design to reduce microfibre shedding.

With the new revelation that substantial quantities of tyre particles are contaminating our rivers and ocean, the emphasis on bringing together scientists, industry and policymakers to identify potential solutions is as important as ever – likely requiring a combination of innovative changes to product design, waste management and consumer behaviour.


Engineering solutions with offshore renewable energy for a sustainable energy system and innovative ecological design

Our leading researchers and cutting-edge facilities are well-placed to advance the UK’s capability in offshore renewable energy (ORE), confronting the environmental challenges faced by wave, tidal, and offshore wind technologies, for the betterment of the whole energy system and in consideration of the marine ecosystems.

We have supported ARC Marine in the development of eco-friendly Reef Cubes, which provide an engineering solution to help mitigate or prevent scour in offshore windfarms while also providing habitats to encourage biodiversity.

  • We lead the Supergen ORE Hub, a consortium of 10 UK universities to provide research leadership that connects academia, industry, policy and public stakeholders
  • Our state-of-the-art COAST Laboratory is a cornerstone facility in the development of marine technologies in the region, providing theoretical and practical engineering testing to benefit a myriad of sectors.

  • Further work with ARC Marine includes the Teats Hill regeneration project, investigating the diversity of marine life living on BIOBLOCKS, which are designed to offer habitats for marine life and encourage biodiversity while still fulfilling their structural functions.

Sunset Offshore Wind Turbine in a Wind farm under construction of England coast, UK. Image courtesy of Getty Images.  

More on our researchers during World Ocean Week

Marine conservation researchers played key role in World Oceans Week events

Through their involvement in the One Ocean Hub, academics from the Marine Conservation Research Group brought together experts from across the globe to share knowledge with the hope of informing future policy recommendations.

Find out more on the University’s involvement

Plymouth Sound and Hoe with graduation marquees


  • Tuesday 9 June: Professor of Applied Social Psychology Sabine Pahl and One Ocean Hub Research Fellow, Dr Kirsty McQuaid, joined a Marine Science Policy-Interface Roundtable to share their experiences of bringing research in environmental psychology and deep-sea ecology to policy development.
  • Wednesday 10 June: Dr Kerry Howell co-led an event focused on the Wonders of the Deep Sea and building capacity in deep-sea research, also joined by Dr McQuaid.
  • Wednesday 10 June: Senior Research Fellow Dr Sian Rees and Research and Knowledge Exchange Fellow Dr Holly Niner led an event focused on the Blue Economy and the complexity of achieving transdisciplinary solutions for sustainable ocean governance.
  • Wednesday 10 June: Dr McQuaid co-led an event aimed at early career researchers titled Accessing Ocean Research Careers, building on the University’s long-established reputation for training marine scientists.


Researchers contribute to Government marine review of marine protected areas

Scientists from the Marine Conservation Research Group have contributed to a Government report into the climate benefits of marine protected areas (MPAs). The Benyon Review found that over half of MPAs contain habitats vital for the nation’s future climate resilience. The report cites ongoing University projects in Lyme Bay and Plymouth Sound, as well as publications calling for a more ambitious approach to marine conservation management.

Read more about the University’s contribution

Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area. Credit: Dr Luke Holmes
Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area. Credit: Dr Luke Holmes